Thursday, January 10, 2013

It has been said that readers are often poorly served when writing is done as an act of catharsis.  I don't have any other reason to write, frankly, so I guess anyone reading anything I wrote is always poorly served.  I always have been a self-absorbed narcissist.  Not pathologically so, where I am willing to do anything or say anything to get what I want, and then move on with no remorse.  No, I feel guilt.  I suffer.  I wonder about whether what I am doing is right or wrong.  I remember the bad things I have done for far longer than the good things.

I don't want to write about the death of my Dad.  I am just afraid that if I wait too long, the memory will fade and I won't get the story straight.

My Mom decided to "free" my Dad on the first of the year.  We had held a meeting the Friday before last and discussed our options.  Doctor Ashad attempted to explain there was no hope.  My sister was angry and confrontational with him.  The rest of us were mostly silent.  My Mom didn't decide that day.  Or the next.

The next week she called to let me know there would be another meeting.  I wrote her an email telling her I would not go.  There was no point.

I had reached a stage where I was fearful he was suffering.  It was impossible to know how much he was cognizant.  He could barely speak,  didn't make much sense when he did, and could not move or feed himself.  He had about five or six operations to move the shunt around in his head that was draining the wound in his brain.  I didn't want any of them done.  It seemed obvious to me that they were just causing him more pain.  My Mom seemed determined to keep him alive, and did not see it the way I did.  When I tried to explain how I felt, she accused me of wanting him to die.

We met on the first of the year, 2013 at the hospital and the procedure began at about 2pm.  They withdrew the tubes and gave him morphine.  But his body held on.  My Aunts and Uncles sang Jewish songs over him for a while.  We took turns coming in to see him and sitting in the hallway.

By about 8pm everyone had left and my Mom asked me to stay.  Since I thought he could hang on for several days, I was upset.  It had been a long, painful road for me.  I had  to drive an hour and 45 minutes each way to go to Sacramento.  My family was about an hour away.  

I don't believe in God, but I thank whatever forces are out there, coincidence, chance, whatever that kept me there that day.

The nurse came in and told me they were going to move him.  I went downstairs to wait in the new room, but he didn't come.  I called my Mom, who was outraged, and went back upstairs.  The Neurosurgeon intervened and told the nurses to back off.  Here he is, a Kaiser doctor for 25 years, and some checklist had to be filled, whether there was a patient coming in or not.  

I sat by his bedside and at about 1pm he began to tire.  His breaths became shorter.  His oxygen saturation rate dropped.  And I knew at that moment, he would die soon.

There were moments when I sat and meditated at his bedside.  I closed my eyes, straightened my spine, and focused on my breath.  I focused on being present with him, at that moment, in this place, with no thoughts of past or future.  No stories to be told or remembered.  I was there for him, and that was all.

It is well known in Buddhist teachings that suffering is inevitable and that it is a natural part of life.  We care and desire things that are not permanent, and eventually, these things are taken from us.  To be grief-stricken, this is normal.  To suffer, this is normal.  There is none of us who does not lose things we love.

There is a Buddhist parable about a woman named Kisa Gotami who was the wife of a wealthy man of Savatthi. Her story is one of the more famous ones in Buddhism. After losing her only child, Kisa Gotami became desperate and asked if anyone can help her. Her sorrow was so great that many thought she had already lost her mind. An old man told her to meet Buddha. Buddha told her that before he could bring the child back to life, she should find white mustard seeds from a family where no one had died. She desperately went from house to house, but to her disappointment, she could not find a house that had not suffered the death of a family member. Finally the realization struck her that there is no house free from mortality. She returned to the Buddha, who comforted her and preached to her the truth. She was awakened and became a monk eventually attaining enlightenment.

I took a nap out front for about two hours, but the rest of the time I sat there with him.  Watching him.  Watching the vital signs as they slowly waned.  At a certain point he stopped breathing and then his breath came back.  I told him I loved him.  I told him the things I would never forget.  I told him I was sorry and asked him for forgiveness. I told him I forgave him.

His body gave up around 5:30am in the morning.  His breaths stopped at the same time his heart stopped.  The nurse came in and took the machines out.  His face lost color.  Eventually a doctor came in and checked his heart, asked me if I was ok, and left.  I sat there for a while with him, though I believed, as he did, that whatever force had been there was no longer there and there was no reason for me to be there.  Neither of us were superstitious.  The sacred part of him was gone.

I put his jacket and his shoes and toothbrush in a bag and walked out.  I paused at the entrance of the hospital and sat on a bench with the bag.  In my entire life, I had never felt so completely alone and it dawned on me that I did not want to be.  I should have planned better.  Like so much of what has happened in my life, it was my fault.  Things were the way that they were because of what I did.

I only dwell on this a little.  In the end it was still wonderful that I could be there.  Traumatic, yes.  Life-changing, yes.  Tragic, yes. My uncle called it the greatest Mitvah (good deed) one person could ever do.  Others may call it Karma.  I call it feeling good that I was there.  I was right there, and I would not have had it any other way.